Capitalism’s future discussed

Tom Emanuel, political science major at the University of South Dakota, discusses the capitalist system as associate professor of law Mike Myers and retired English professor Norma Wilson listen. The trio participated in the regular International Forum at USD Monday, the topic of which was “Goodbye Capitalism?” (Photo by David Lias)

Goodbye, capitalism?

The individuals who took part in a University of South Dakota forum asking that question Monday do not seem to think so. But, some said they thought change is possible.

Norma Wilson, former English professor and current president of the South Dakota Peace and Justice Center, likened the system to the mythical hydra — except that it has not nine, but 1 million heads, at least, she said.

"It could take more than 500 years for the entire system to collapse, so the question before us is, can we reform capitalism, or will capitalism kill us? The only solution I see for us ordinary Americans is to organize and get busy reforming the system," she said.

These comments were made as part of the regular International Forum, which took place in Farber Hall.

Paraphrasing poet Allen Ginsberg, Wilson said, "We've got to put our shoulders to the wheel. We've got to do all we can to reform the system. We need to learn more about the world's largest casino, Wall Street."

Wilson said that wages as a share of the national income are at their lowest level since the Great Depression, that the number of Americans living in poverty is at an all-time high and that 16.5 percent of Americans are unemployed or under-employed.

She suggested that the Federal Reserve could step in to help solve these problems.

"The Fed acted urgently to save Wall Street when it was on the verge of collapse. We need the Fed to act with the same boldness to combat unemployment," she said. "The Federal Reserve has a responsibility to ensure the safety and soundness of financial institutions. Should a bank that is 'too big to fail' be allowed to exist in the first place? …

"We deserve a Federal Reserve that works for us, not just the CEOs on Wall Street. Unregulated capitalism has the potential to destroy the environment and the future of the human race. We cannot allow that to happen," she said.

Tom Emanuel, political science major and Truman Scholar at USD, said he has been thinking about the idea of the capitalistic system since the Occupy Wall Street movement started earlier this year.

"The way I see it, our capitalist system revolves around a central idea, which is that those who work harder will have better economic success, and so conversely, those who have greater economic success must have worked harder to get it. And because they worked harder to get it, they deserve to do what they like with the fruits of their labor," he said.

This is the basic principle behind the American Dream, he said, although he added it could be more accurately described as the "American delusion."

"I call it the American delusion because I think it's a wildly inaccurate picture of how human interaction actually works," he said.

Emanuel said people are affected in positive and negative ways by elements over which they have no control, including where and to whom they are born, as well as the people they encounter.

"If I take advantage of the opportunities that come my way, then good for me," he said. "I deserve something out of that. But pretending that everything that I've achieved is a result of my hard work alone is delusional. …

"No man is an island, no woman is an island, and any economic system that pretends that they are an island is fundamentally disconnected from the way the world works," he said.

When the system itself is "disconnected" and only takes account of those who earn the most, it is going to affect society at large, Emanuel said, citing as examples drilling in the Gulf of Mexico by British Petroleum, and investment companies making decisions "that directly affect millions of people."

Mike Myers, an associate professor at the USD School of Law who also has done extensive work in the field of health care, said decisions on a smaller scale also can be affected.

Myers said he used to host a radio program on Saturday mornings where he would make observations about the health care system — until the show was promptly canceled one week.

A year later, he said he learned that a donor from Catholic Health Care Systems had complained about the program to the station manager.

"In a true marketplace, (the station manager) did exactly what I would have done, or you would have done. He said, 'Myers, you're done.'"

Emanuel said these decisions, large and small, "have consequences not just for corporations, but for society at large. I come to the question, why don't the rest of us get a chance to participate in making these decisions, even when they intimately affect us? …

"It is in effect taxation without representation. And that, I think, is what this movement is about. Or what it could be about, at least," he said.

The forum was moderated by Dr. Benno Wymar.

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